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Two Guitars

Dreamed 2000 by Marc Ian Barasch

Dreamworkers often suggest taking the stance of someone from another planet, inquiring about each element of a dream as if it were entirely foreign: What is this? What does it do? What is it used for? According to this mode of inquiry, if we dream about, say, a wagon, we would be less concerned with the little red wagon featured in a childhood trauma at Grandma's than with what a wagon does: it carries heavy loads, for example, or transports people to new frontiers. We might then ask ourselves what burdens we are carrying, or what pioneering efforts we are trying to make in our lives.

An analogous approach can be found in an ancient Greek dream book, Artemidorus's Oneirocritica, which explains that a dream of drinking vinegar presages a sour family quarrel ("because of the contraction of the mouth"); or that dreaming of "vegetables that give off a smell after they are eaten as, for example ... cut leeks," means that "secrets will be revealed, and signals hatred for one's associates." (Vegetables that broadcast their odors are offensive to others.) In this approach, we do not, for example, proceed from leek to "leak" but try to stay with the actual image and see what it can tell us directly.

I might illustrate this interpretive technique using a garden-variety dream I had recently, which contains a few simple images:

Leah (my daughter) has put an ad in the paper to sell a dark wood acoustic guitar. No, I tell her, that's the good one. Sell this cheaper, light-colored one instead.
In a structural approach, I would first look at a guitar as something one plays (perhaps suggesting a need for more playfulness in my life); as a thing that makes music (a deep soul pleasure I tend to neglect); or as an instrument made from an organic material, whose sounds are produced by resonance rather than electricity--an invitation to a more natural, intimate, "unplugged" life. I could see an ad as a way to get rid of something unwanted (in this case the "dark side" of myself, which the dream suggests is actually more valuable and should be kept); and my daughter, my offspring, as a child-part of myself I need to better understand....

Dreams often present their own parallel--even contrarian--story line, reminding us of unattended emotional issues. My aforementioned "two guitars" dream, for example, was freighted with personal history: I had bought my daughter, Leah, two guitars on different childhood birthdays, one dark, one light, neither of which she ever learned to play. She'd beautifully decorated their cases, though, proving what I'd resisted acknowledging--her artistic talents ran to the visual arts, like her mother, and she would never share my passion for playing music. The guitars still sit in my garage. I've often thought of selling the dark one, (jet black with a white pick guard, an Elvis special) but feel too sentimental, as yet unwilling on some lost-cause level to admit defeat. take another literary tack on the same dream, a guitar is notoriously shaped like a woman. Am I trying to come to terms with the dark and light aspects of the feminine something that I, like many men, have often struggled with? A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but this possibility is amphfied by my daughter's name: Jungians often see the biblical Leah (dark) and Rachel (light) as two aspects of the same feminine psyche.

Leah's name also reminds me that the theme of the Bible story is that of a father trying to "sell" his daughters in marriage in a kind of two-for-one deal (the "light" Rachel being the fair and favored). At the time, "my" Leah had just begun her first serious long-term relationship, evoking any number of feelings. Could my child actually get married someday? I wondered. Will I have to "give her away"? In many cultures, a bride represents, for the father, a complicated financial transaction, involving analogies to advertising, buying, and selling. Could the image of selling the guitar be the dream's invitation to face my anxiety about having, with great finality, to give up my image of Leah as my little girl? Although she wishes to sell the guitar, to relinquish outgrown vestiges of her childhood, I try to stop her--I'm not ready. If I cared to pursue it further, I would no doubt uncover more unresolved family "emotional business."

...A true dream cannot... be bottled up without expression. Choctaw Indian Preston Scott told me: "A vision is telling you as an individual to do things a certain way. You can run and tell it to one interpreter or another, but the dream will still mean the same. You gotta test it."

There are many ways to "test" the dream. The simplest is telling it to the person you dreamed about. When I had my dream about my daughter and her "two guitars," I decided to call her in New York. I had felt hesitant, but was startled when she informed me her new boyfriend had that very week put an ad in the paper to sell two acoustic guitars--one dark, one light. She had never even mentioned to me that he played music. She also mentioned she was about to go to the wedding--a second marriage of her boyfriend's father, where the entire family, including five siblings, would inevitably size her up. She asked what I thought she should wear--there was a sense of "selling herself" to the clan.

Seven months later came an even more extraordinary confirmation. While visiting home for Christmas, Leah made a surprise announcement: she and her boyfriend had become engaged to be married. It was a happy occasion, but I felt fortunate that my dream, by alerting me to a possibility I hadn't considered, had helped cushion the shock (which, as father of the bride, included paying for a large ceremony!).

When a Plains Indian would have a powerful dream, he would bring it out into the world. He might teach others its songs of healing, paint a shield, or perform a ritual dance. Many people I spoke to devised their own not dissimilar ways to bring their dream into the world. A strange aura surrounds any symbolic enactment of a dream. Anyone who tries this, even if just to make a crude drawing in crayon, will feel the energy of two worlds bumping up against each other.

For example, I'm passionate about playing the guitar but sometimes have a dark feeling when it silently beckons me from its stand. I think of it as an aging adolescent indulgence; I should be working; the neighbors will complain. But the morning of my "two guitars" dream, I strapped it on before I got dressed, put on an Otis Spann CD, and ripped through the lowdown Chicago blues for an ecstatic hour.

--Marc Ian Barasch


I agree. Dreams (except the most fragmentary) steer you toward some action. I write mine onscreen, and at the end of each morning record, I've set up a prompt to appear:

It makes me feel my dream's incomplete until I write in something I can do. I find it relatively easy--once I look--to see what action a dream urges, but very hard to enact those suggestions. They're often at the limit of my courage, or (apparently) beyond it. But acknowledging that the dream's a call to action is a first step.

--Chris Wayan

Healing Dreams by Marc Ian Barasch (Riverhead/Penguin/Putnam, 2000) describes not only how he survived cancer due to warning dreams, but dozens of other dreamers led out of deadly situations--not all of them simply medical. Highly recommended, both for the vividness of his examples and for his clear, multileveled approach. Two Guitars (my title of convenience only) is excerpted from pages 45-54.

LISTS AND LINKS: inheritances - music - instruments - parents and kids - empathy - gifts and giving - predictive and telepathic dreams - psychic dreams in general - family - weddings - letting go - dreamwork - more Mark Ian Barasch - Leah -

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